BORODIN: Symphonies Nos. 1, 2 and 3 (Gunter Appenheimer/ Slovak Radio Symphony Orchestra/ Stephen Gunzenhauser) (Naxos: 8.550238)
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Alexander Porfir'yevich Borodin (1833 - 1887)
Symphony No.1 in E flat major
Symphony No.2 in B minor
Symphony No.3 in A minor (completed & orchestrated byAlexander Glazunov)
Alexander Porfir'yevich Borodin was born in 1833, theillegitimate son of a Georgian prince, assuming, according to custom the surname andpatronymic of one of his father's serfs. His mother later married a retired army doctorand he was brought up at home in cultured and privileged surroundings. Here he was able todevelop his early interests in music, in the course of a general education that won himentry in 1850 to the Medico-Surgical Academy. His public career was as a scientist, from1864 as a professor of chemistry at the Medico-Surgical Academy, and involved him inteaching and in research. In common with a number of contemporaries, he was only able toindulge his interest in music in his spare time, a fact that delayed his progress andleft, at his death in 1886, a number of incompleted projects, to be assembled and finishedby his friend Rimsky-Korsakov, who had resigned his commission in the navy to devotehimself entirely to music, and Rimsky-Korsakovs pupil Alexander Glazunov.
The nineteenth century saw the development of nationalismthroughout Europe. In Russia there was an intellectual reaction to the westernizingtendencies initiated by Peter the Great a century before, and in all the arts a movetowards the creation of something specifically Russian. In music opinions were dividedbetween a group of nationalist composers, the so-called Five, led by Balakirev, who hadenjoyed a measure of professional training, and including, in addition to Borodin andRimsky-Korsakov, the expert on military fortification Cesar Cui and the alcoholic ex-armyofficer turned civil servant Mussorgsky. These nationalist composers gloried in their ownrelative amateurism, opposing strongly the establishment of professional conservatories inSt. Petersburg and Moscow by the Rubinstein brothers, whom they regarded as representativeof "German" music. The succeeding generation was able to provide a synthesisbetween these two rival movements, joining the professional training of the conservatoriesto Russian sources of inspiration.
Borodin attempted three symphonies, the last of which he neverfinished. The first, in E flat, took him five years to complete, occupying hisintermittent attention from 1862 until 1867. It was given a poor trial performance underBalakirev in March 1868, but was more successful when it was played in the first RussianMusic Society concert of 1869. Borodin had met Balakirev first in 1862 and fallen underhis influence, of which the First Symphony
was a more or less immediate result, his first sustained exercise in composition andsubjected to the often contradictory criticism of his new mentor at every step.
The E flat Symphony
opens with a slow introduction that contains the germ of the Allegro first subject. An E flat major secondmovement scherzo shows a debt toMendelssohn, a favourite with Borodin, while the Bmajor trio has about it more the exotic world of Borodin's unfinished opera Prince Igor. The Dmajor slow movement is dominated by a melody originally intended for the coranglais, until the intervention of Rimsky-Korsakoy and Glazunov, who recommended the useof the cello in its place. The symphony ends with an energetic finale which, in spite ofits characteristic second subject, owes much to German tradition and was described byGerald Abraham as second-hand Schumann, a judgment as harsh as the same writer's view ofthe scherzo as second-hand Berlioz,deficiencies for which he regarded the original first movement as ample compensation.
The Second Symphony
was started in 1869 and completed seven years later, the period of its compositioncoinciding very largely with Borodin's intermittent attention to work on Prince Igor. The music is thoroughly Russian in moodand the composer himself suggested in conversation with Stasov that the first movementrepresented some gathering of Russian warriors, the slow movement a Bajan and the last acrowd in festive mood. The opening movement is dominated by its forceful and ominous firsttheme. The Scherzo, slightly altered in itsopening on the suggestion of Balakirev, who was always ready with advice, howeverinconsistent, shifts a semi-tone higher, as the repeated note C on the horns serves as theintroduction of the new key of F major, much as the G flat chord that opens the Andante, with its moving horn solo, shifts thetonality to D flat, changing to C sharp minor at the start of the colourful B major finale. The symphony, in fact, is remarkablein its technical novelty, within the traditional symphonic framework, and constitutes anorchestral counterpart of Prince Igor, Polovtsian Dances and all.
The Third Symphony,of which only two movements exist, makes use as a second movement of a scherzo in acharacteristically uneven rhythm scored originally for string quartet, written in 1882,and orchestrated, as Borodin had intended. For the Trio
Glazunov took music that the composer had written for the first act of Prince Igor but had later rejected. The firstmovement, reconstructed by Glazunov from the composer's sketches and from his phenomenalmemory, had actually originally been intended as a string quartet, a fact that goes someway to explaining its relatively spare texture and gentle mood.
Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava)
The Czechoslovak Radio Symphony Orchestra (Bratislava), theoldest symphonic ensemble in Slovakia, was founded in 1929 at the instance of MilosRuppeldt and Oskar Nedbal, prominent personalities in the sphere of music. The orchestrawas first conducted by the Prague conductor Frantisek Dyk and in the course of the pastfifty years of its existence has worked under the batons of several prominent Czech andSlovak conductors. Ondrej Lenard was appointed its conductor in 1970 and in 1977 itsconductor-in-chief. The orchestra has recently given a number of successful concerts bothat home and abroad, in West and East Germany, Russia, Bulgaria, Denmark, France, Spain,Italy, and Great Britain.
The American conductor Stephen Gunzenhauser was educated in NewYork, continuing his studies at Oberlin, at the Salzburg Mozarteum, at the New EnglandConservatory and at Cologne State Conservatory. His period at the last of these was theresult of a Fulbright Scholarship, followed by an award from the West German Governmentand a first prize in the conducting competition held in the Spanish town of Santiago.
During the last two decades, Gunzenhauser has enjoyed a variedand distinguished career, winning popularity in particular for his work with the DelawareSymphony.
For the Marco Polo label Stephen Gunzenhauser has recordedworks by Bloch, Lachner, Taneyev, Liadov, Gli?¿re and Rubinstein, and for NAXOSTchaikovsky's Symphony No.5, Beethoven Overtures, the Saint-Sa?½ns Organ Symphony, Orff's Carmina Burana and Rachmaninov's Second. He is currently engaged in recording all thesymphonies and symphonic poems of Dvorak, also for NAXOS.